Shooting Stars Book 1
The windows of the brick front colonial were dark as Alex drove his rumbling patchwork car up the steep driveway.
“See? Got the place all to ourselves.” Alex pulled a hand off the steering wheel to give Chance’s thigh a playful punch as he maneuvered into his designated spot. His father always got pissed if he parked anywhere else. But his father wasn’t coming home tonight. With an exhilarating flash of anarchy, Alex cranked the stick into reverse and wedged his Nissan at the top of the driveway, blocking it for any other cars. He turned to give Chance his full attention.
“Relax,” he said slowly, drawing the word out like a mantra.
“Yeah, right.” Chance’s eyes reflected the dim glow of the dashboard like they were lit from within.
“I’m telling you—their flight was delayed. No gray area. My mom said they’re booking a hotel for the night.” Alex sighed when Chance didn’t respond. “Not maybe. Not thinking about it. They are. Shelly’s sleeping at her girlfriend’s. Do you just not want to?” Something inside Alex pulled loose and floated in limbo while he awaited the answer.
It wasn’t like they hadn’t had sex before, but spending an entire night together for the first time implied a level of adult commitment Alex desperately craved. At eighteen, they were technically grown-ups, but the opportunity was rare, and probably wouldn’t come again while they both still lived with their parents. He’d be crushed if Chance didn’t want to grab this moment while they could.
“No—I do.” Chance’s smile was almost shy—not the cocky grin he’d cultivated for the moments he spent performing at parties and open mic nights. Alex smiled back, fiercely glad he was on the inside and one of the few who got to see the real Chance. Their classmates at Newburg Free Academy saw the version with the too-cool veneer. As much as Alex loved every one of Chance’s personas, this one right here—vulnerable and sincere—was by far Alex’s favorite.
They walked into the silent house, and Alex locked the door behind them.
“So. What do you wanna do?” He snapped a switch on the wall and the foyer chandelier bathed the entryway in jarring light.
Chance squinted. “Don’t know. I guess I can grab my guitar out of the back seat if you wanna jam.”
“Hmmm…” Alex stepped closer. Sometimes it seemed like Chance’s drive to be a famous musician was his way of compensating for being gay. Like there was something wrong with it.
“I know we’ve got all night, but we should probably make the most of it.”
Chance smirked at Alex, narrowing his startlingly green eyes.
“Not even dinner first, huh?”
“What? We had tons of food! You’ve been stuffing your face all day!” Both graduation parties they’d attended boasted spreads large enough to feed a small country.
“That was, like, an hour ago.” Chance gave him a pout that broke into a grin under Alex’s pointed stare. “Fine. What did you have in mind?”
“Not sure I can really describe it without a diagram. Why don’t we go up to my room, and I’ll show ya?” Alex closed the inches between their mouths and pressed his lips to Chance’s. His taste and smell rivaled a summer rain for clean. Earthy. Kissing Chance always propelled Alex out of time and place…there was magic in those lips, set free by Alex’s own.
They pulled apart. “Okay,” Chance murmured, his eyes half-closed and his voice thick and kiss-drugged. “Let’s go.” Alex took his hand and led him upstairs.
* * * *
“What! The! Fuck?” His father’s voice punched into Alex’s dream, snarling and dripping contempt. His heart stopped in his chest as his eyes sprang open. Zero to sixty-thousand—perfect, peaceful sleep to jaw-dropping worst nightmare—Alex sprang out of bed. He said a silent prayer of thanks he and Chance had put on their underwear to go downstairs and grab ice cream after their chafe-inducing sex-a-thon. But it didn’t matter.
The writing was on the wall. And on his bedside table in the form of an economy-sized bottle of lube. The truth was all over Chance’s face when he sat up, eyes bulging as they searched frantically for his clothes and an escape hatch.
“You nasty fucking fruits! How dare you perverts do your…” His dad sputtered, either not sure how to describe what they’d been doing, or too disgusted to try. “And in my house!” he thundered. His face was a shade of beet red that meant terrible pain was about to pay Alex a visit. On the other side of the bed, Chance scrambled to stand. He pulled his jeans on inside-out, as if the house was on fire.
It might as well have been.
“You!” Jeffrey Bremen pinned Chance with a finger.
“If I ever see you in my home again, the whole world is gonna know you’re a fucking flamer! You wanna be a rock star? Let’s see how well that works when everyone hates your fag-fucking guts!”
Chance, trembling, met Alex’s gaze for half a heartbeat.
“Get out!” Jeff screamed, and Chance bolted for the door.
Alex turned from his retreating boyfriend, and back toward his father. He barely managed to cover his head before the first blow came down.
Nine Years Later
Alex Bremen stood at his kitchen sink washing dishes. The brush didn’t want to fit inside the top of his water bottle, and he pushed and twisted the handle, cursing the small-mouthed steel can. The bristles finally cleared the rim and the brush dropped inside. Sudsy water from the bottom shot up and spattered his shirt.
“Stupid thing,” he growled at the overpriced piece of tin. “I shoulda gone with the cheaper one.”
A voice from the nearby radio began the morning traffic report, and Alex reached a soapy hand over to the scroll button.
“Less talk, more music, buddy.” Silence filled the space as the radio searched for the next station. Alex was rinsing out the metal container when the hauntingly familiar strains of the song he wrote came on and froze his fingers under the painfully hot stream.
This is forever. Don’t let them tell us how to be. Take my heart and never give it back to me. The man’s voice was rough with emotion, so deep and dark it immediately forced a lump into Alex’s throat.
He dropped the bottle with a metallic clatter that did nothing to block out the music.
My song. The one I wrote for Chance. And now, that motherfucker has the nerve to sing it after all this time?
Someone even accompanied him on the piano, as Alex used to do nine years ago.
“Son of a bitch!” He choked out the words as he turned up the radio. Alex caught the DJ talking as the final notes ended.
“That was Armageddon Showdown doing their latest, ‘Forever is Now.’ For those of you who aren’t familiar with them, we don’t usually play their brand of heavy-metal, but this new ballad is off-the-charts hot. I bet they’ll be spinning it on everything from hard rock to country stations. When it starts burning up the airwaves, just remember you heard it here first, and keep it tuned to WRCW for all of your alternative needs.”
A commercial for Hooters cut into his stunned immobility. It broke Alex free of the paralyzing shock. He reached out and turned off the radio, nauseous from the invisible sledgehammer he’d taken to the gut.
“How could you?” Chance’s eighteen-year-old visage, so young and scared the last time they were together, swam before his eyes. It wasn’t the same face Alex had watched climb to rock star fame. The acrid taste of betrayal had never left his mouth as he listened to Chance’s voice half-screaming, half-singing for the past near-decade. Alex’s high school boyfriend had transformed into a spikey-haired, pierced and tattooed, monster-metal god. The pain may have faded over time, but the resentment never did. It wasn’t like he could throw away his yearbooks, delete his Facebook account, and wipe away all traces of Chance. No. He was constantly bombarded with his image—his voice—on various media outlets. There was no escape. Lucky Chance, he could pick and choose which parts of his past he remembered. Apparently, Alex’s song had made the cut.
Alex chewed on his lower lip as the pull of revenge tensed his muscles for a fight. Do I really want to come face to face with that asshole again? Two opposing forces warred inside him. Be the bigger man and let it go? Or pay Chance back for his below-the-belt hit?
Alex made the mistake of going to an Armageddon Showdown concerts a few years back, and that had been too close for comfort. He’d seen Chance writhing and thrashing on stage, performing for an adoring crowd. The front man pointed to the hottest women with a sneer and a promising crook of his finger, all the while oblivious to his ex-boyfriend standing beyond the reach of the dazzling lights.
Not that Alex ever wanted Chance to see him again. He chose his path, the spineless prick, and now he could live a lie to please the masses. Alex was a million times happier fully out of the closet. He was accepted and admired by his co-workers, both at the magazine and at his production company. If the bitterness didn’t prevent it, he might even feel sorry for Chance, faking who he was for the spotlight.
Alex was making a name for himself. The Satan’s Hubcaps documentary he directed and produced won him multiple awards and helped the band land a recording deal. He got laid whenever he wanted. So what if he hadn’t met that special someone yet?
Because you already met the man of your dreams when you were a high school senior, and no amount of casual sex can erase Chance Ralan from your heart or mind. The annoying voice whispered inside his head. He hated it all the more because it spoke the truth.
“Fuck him! Fuck! I was willing to forget all of his shit, but this took some real fuckin’ balls!”
Alex’s German shepherd, King, looked up briefly and then put his silvered snout back on his paws. He was too tired to deal with his master’s crap right now, it seemed.
“I wrote the lyrics and the piano piece for that song. I wrote it for him, and he’s making a shitload of cash off the one real thing that ever fucking happened to him, King.”
The dog looked up at his name and cocked his head.
“I’m not going to let him get away with it. I want my song back.”
King opened his mouth for an enormous yawn, complete with a drawn-out whine.
“You’ll see.” Alex reached down to pat the pooch on his knobby head. His black tail thumped once on the ground in response.
“Chance Ralan is going to regret the day he ever screwed with me.”